Inspiration from The Wasp Woman

18 May

On this, Eurovison Final Day, my vegetables and flowers are healthy on the balcony, someone is playing Debussy figures downstairs in the music school and my head is a-whirl with plans.

My friend (and soon to be collaborator in an Alt.Country musical) Jason, found this fantastic movie poster for my birthday. The Wasp Woman is a Roger Corman B-Movie from 1959 about a cosmetics mogul and badass who takes wasp royal jelly serum to become fabulously youthful.
Let’s overlook the gaping scientific flaws in the film’s premise and the thematic rip from The Fly, but when I saw this, I felt fabulously badass too.

It’s good timing because I’m working on the production notes for some new full-band recordings. Next month, we get to test out some cool DDR microphones in a new studio set-up. If the collaboration works, we’ll be making the new WS album as my annual Winter Project.

I often use visual inspiration to help me set the stylistic tone for a new project. The Wasp Woman‘s noir-ish colour scheme, melodrama, feminine force and, of course, the overt wasp theme, is a helpful focus point while I work on the sounds I want on guitar and from Simon’s bass and Stu’s drums.

Storyboard for 'Close as a Slow Dance'My first record, Close as a Slow Dance, was deep pomegranate, black and dusky earthen colours. Perfectly appropriate for the alt.country folk on the disk.

I’ll take down the old album’s collage storyboards on my wall and start making new ones while I work on the sounds I want on guitar and from Simon’s bass and Stu’s drums – more fuzz, more muscle, more groove. You can hear my home demo for new song Burning here to give you an idea.

While the Summer looks incredibly busy, Autumn and Winter are going to be digging-in time writing the rest of the songs that will make up the album, playing more with the band and finally learning more German.
Enjoy the melodrama of Eurovision and hopefully we’ll meet in a smoky basement somewhere and share some new songs.

Cheers,
Sam Wasp Summer

Chrissy Amphlett

22 Apr

Vale Chrissy Amphlett. I was 7, maybe 8, when I first saw you on the tele. I was pretty newly arrived in Australia and without any new heroes to help me through the bullying and difference of newly suburban Nerang, a highway town they’d started carving out of agistment acreage and farms in the 70’s.

Classic Chrissy Amphlett by Tony Mott

Classic Chrissy Amphlett by Tony Mott

I was sitting cross-legged on the floor like you would in the Pleasure and Pain video, engrossed in my essential weekly show Countdown. I’m pretty sure it was Boys In Town. I remember then putting Boys In Town on the jukebox at a pub near my school where my Dad was playing pool. At the time, I wasn’t aware of the context but, as I grew into my body and my teens, that song became my Suburban Girl’s Escape Manual, “I was just a red brassiere/to all the boys in town/put this bus in top gear/get me out of here…” Aussie girls were tough, sassy. I would be tough and sassy too.

I was in immediate thrall to your toughness, your wildness. You thrilled me. I was glued to the TV or the radio every time you were on. It took me a little more maturity to see your equal and brave vulnerability. You were so tough because you laid your whole self on the line – defiantly, provocatively – Are you man enough to handle me? Please be man enough to handle me.

You had the onstage stance of a school brawler: squared off, sharp elbows, crouching and ready – a female John Wayne cowboy in a sailor suit, flat shoes and suspenders. Rather than your spectacular writhing on the industrial grid flooring in Pleasure and Pain, I was struck by your quick, ugly, angular arm gestures and wide, confronting eyes. You, Chrissy, pointing and sarcastic, “Ha! Oh please don’t ask me how I been getting on.” It took me years to understand you were singing, “how I been getting off” – a world of difference. Your sarcastic ‘Ha!” was also in Hey Little Boy, the last Divinyls song I really liked. “Ha! Well! I’m talking to YOU!

Chrissy Amphlett at Australian Made by Bob King

Chrissy Amphlett at Australian Made by Bob King

In 1986, a bunch of cowboy promoters staged Australian Made, an all-Australian music festival I was too young to go to. But I wore out the video watching, well, Michael Hutchence – who wouldn’t… and you, Chrissy. Breaking the fourth wall. Getting off the stage and wobbling precariously on the camera track behind the crowd barrier. Sitting open-legged on the lip of the stage. Yelling, “Where are all the boys?”. Sitting next to Hutchence saying, “I just do my thing, Troy. Whatever happens, you know, the moment takes over.” I wanted to be you so badly. I practiced being you with a broomstick mic stand and hairbrush microphone. I wasn’t a tough girl, but I was a mouthy girl, a quietly provocative girl, a girl with a strutting walk – liquid on the inside and solid brass on the outside. I wanted to be you so badly, I got into singing.

Your gasping, sucking breathing in songs, your hiccuping yodels and growled, fried notes were so against the normal rules of recorded singing and so important to the intensity of your sound, and mine. I got into my first band at 15 and, with you as my patron saint, finally began to enjoy myself and confuse my fellow students at lunchtime gigs. Strangely, I don’t remember us doing Divinyls songs. They were such a tight band with such classy, rippling lead lines, a killer pop singles band, that we couldn’t touch those sounds, but I was never really looking at Mark McEntee.

Your conversational tone with the audience during Temperamental, your cowboy walk from the hips, your pointing and simply owning the stage as if this argument was in your comfortable kitchen at home. Your red hair. Your open mouth. I absorbed all of this from you.

I saw you once in the toilets at the Athanaeum Theatre in Melbourne during a Tex, Don and Charlie concert. I sat in the cubicle bracing myself to say hello, thank you for your inspiration. As I emerged, another woman beat me to it, catching her eyes in the mirror (she couldn’t look directly) and offering you, “You inspired me and my girlfriends to be tough and strong. Thank you.” She’d said what I would have said and you just kind of looked at her and drawled, “Yeeeaaaaahhhhhhhh.” No big-sisterly smile and wink, nothing. I slunk out without a word, appalled but exhilarated to have been in your presence. Praise or bile, like Dean Martin, you seemed truly not to give a fuck.

I turn 38 next month, Chrissy. You were only 14 years older than me. I’m so happy you went peacefully in your sleep after your body was ravaged by both cancer and MS. In interviews, you seemed to take a lot of wisdom and strength even from two solid body blows like that – a brawler ’til the end. I’ve now strapped on an electric guitar and, vocally and musically, I’m aiming for the mix of cool, vulnerability, wry humour and balls that you taught me, Chrissy. You were my first musical hero. What you offered us shaped me on stage and helped give me a place and an identity as an immigrant to Australia. Thank you.

Love,
Sam

April Wasp: strange little girls

9 Apr

I’ve got a bunch of gigs coming up with Wasp Summer! They’re all listed on the Concerts page. Have a look!

But this Thursday, I’m playing at Kugelbahn in Wedding with Salon Band, great Berlin musical guns-for-hire. Salon Band host a monthly event where they invite and accompany guest singers. They picked three songs from my album – Dancehall at Louse Point, I Hope You’ll Mend and No Time For Compliments Now and asked me to pick three more cover songs. I chose Randy Crawford’s jazz-pop classic One Day I’ll Fly Away (you’ll be hypnotised by Ms. Crawford’s teeth), The Motels’ simmering Total Control (a hit only in France and Australia) and 60’s stomper Tobacco Road (which I’m approaching in a Tina Turner/Small Faces kind of way).

I’ve worked on “owning” these three songs – interpreting them, rather than just singing the melody and phrasings I know so well. In singing them carefully alone and with the band, I realised they’re actually weirdly structured. I had an epiphany about my songwriting – since I was a kid, I’ve always been drawn to songs where the form is dictated by the lyrics and melody, rather than creating a perfect chord progression and constructing/cramming the story into it. Perhaps, other people’s favourites amongst the songs I have written are the classically formed ones – even rhyming patterns, even line lengths, symmetrical structure. But my favourites are the bent and winding songs, the one-eyed songs, the crooked and eccentric songs with two verses at the top, one refrain and a long outro for a tail – my strange little girls.

The three songs I chose sound straight on the surface, but have a kooky, emotional view of their subject (getting over lost love, desire, and what the Germans might call Heimathassleibe), and structures – the length of verses, where and what the bridge sections do, etc. – designed (consciously or unconsciously) to emphasise the emotion/story the writer wants to tell.

I’ve often had bandmembers and arrangers ask, “Did you know there’s half a bar of 3/4 there?” or “What a weird keychange. Did you mean to do that?” or “Did you want 10 beats in that section?” or “Can we straighten this bit out?”. To which the answers are really?, yes, yes and no.  It just sounds normal to me because I “count” the song by lyrics and phrasing, not chord structure or bar numbers. Writing my charts isn’t straightforward. And the songs go how they go because that’s how they go. I don’t try to be dumb about it and I do edit my work, but if a song has an intrinsically strong melody or lyric, or keychange or structure, the only criteria are “Does it feel authentic to me?” and “Does it sound good to me?” If I play it in public, the answer is yes.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email me back at waspsummer@gmail.com.

Cheers,

Sam

New Song: Burning

23 Mar Wasp Summer at Schokoladen, Berlin

I think this is probably the best demo I’ve ever made. I am really digging the harmonies – they’re so tense, tight and quietly dramatic. This song points to the new direction I’m taking Wasp Summer in, especially now I have the three-piece band with bassplayer Simon Morrison (Remarkable Shipwrecks, Dead Sentries, ex-Assassination Collective) and journalist/drummer Stuart Braun (ex-Dust) – sexier, looser, less folk and more rock, noisier. I’m fronting a band on guitar for the first time. It’s exhilarating.

Here’s Burning:

March Wasp

20 Mar

With a head full of cottonwool, I send a million emails for myself and others whose music I adore to round up more work/money so we can continue on this picturesque clifftop gravel path of making music.

Since the last email, I have had a good long think about my direction as a a musician who needs to pay the rent. Thus, I am plowing my energy into three areas – rehearsing and writing for Wasp Summer, singing as often as I can in a variety of styles and booking shows in the A Headful of Bees Booking Agency.

As much fun as I’ve had touring since 2011, I really had the urge to stay closer to home this year, develop my ideas and get some sleep. You know, eight hours a night, every night. (It’s not always working. I binge-watched the new US TV series Nashville in five days). I play gigs, have after-singing drinks with my choir, go dancing to noise bands (Oneida! “You’ve got to step into the light light light light light light…”), try to experience the many joys and madnesses of Berlin. I figure if I ever have a baby, I’ll won’t resent the loss of sleep so much if I have some sleep now.

Really, I want to get to the end of 2013 knowing that I am in a kick-arse rock ‘n’ roll band. The guitar-work should sit nicely around the vocals. I’m doing tiny solos, getting lessons and learning how to play slide guitar. I will get a delay pedal. I might get a Big Muff fuzz pedal.

My songs want me to use the lower, sexier, more womanly voice I’m growing into as well as the showier parts of my range. I will eventually be as comfortable behind a guitar as I am with a microphone in my hand. I want people to think PJ Harvey and not Sheryl Crow when they see us play.

In fulfilling my aims, I have some shows coming up. I’m working with a lovely West Berliner called Tom Cunningham, a sweet and very interesting guy who’s been here since the early 70’s producing records and releasing albums. My dearest friend in Berlin, jazz singer Lena Tjäder invited me to work as a backing singer with Tom. We debut this Saturday night at Ufer Cafe (Nordufer 4, Wedding for the Berliners) with a mix of his, my and Lena’s originals and covers accompanied by guitarist Michel. 20:00.

Next month, I am working with Salonband, an amazing group of pro musicians who worked with my compadre Eric Eckhart on his DIT album. Once a month, they invite singers, learn their albums and back them at Kugelbahn, also in Berlin-Wedding. It’s my turn on April 11 and I’ll be doing some stuff off my record plus a couple of songs that influenced how I sing and write – Total Control, One Day I’ll Fly Away and Tobacco Road. This is going to be an amazing night.

Look out for some more Wasp Summer band gigs over the Summer. There’s big shows coming up for 48-Stunden Neukölln, Fete de la Musqiue and Berlin Music Week and smaller ones in great rock ‘n’ roll basements.

If you want to hear my album again, please check it out at
waspsummer.bandcamp.com, but I post new demos up at www.soundcloud.com/waspsummer.

Here’s hoping for the Spring to break. I need some suuuuuuuuuuuun.

February Wasp

2 Feb

Wasp Summer News + Shows
Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, plena utilis notitia de musicus ‘, vocatus’ siren aestas.

Greetings, dearhearts. I return from my hibernation with new songs and some very interesting concerts in the city of Berlin. Living, as I do, in one of the singer-songwriter capitals of the world, I’m really fortunate to encounter a wide variety of good work on a monthly, even weekly, basis.

Even as I’ve become more involved in hosting events here with the Sofa Salon house concert series, and the upcoming Showcase! and One on One! events I’m co-producing with Jenn Kelly from anti-folk festival Everyone is from Somewhere, my own writing has been turning away to a harder, darker sound, especially now I’m fronting a three-piece band and leading on guitar.

I hear walls of noise, people. Walls of noise! Which is why the next few shows will be interesting for me as I explore band-specific material in a solo setting. Please come and watch me. I will be working very hard.

If you’re not on the Sofa Salon or Headful of Bees collective e-mail lists, I’d love you to know about the Showcase! and One on One shows. With Showcase! Jenn and I are simply hosting four of Berlin’s best musicians, Elyas Khan, Phia, Tomi Simatupang and Roland Satterwhite on Thursday 21 February at the English Theatre Berlin. I promise they will blow your mind.

The One on Ones are quite special. Two performers will have the small dressing rooms at the English Theatre Berlin. They will write all their songtitles on playing cards. You pay your 5€, pick a playing card for each performer and they give you an utterly unique One on One performance of that random song. Email me back if you want information on performer dates, times or the concept. It’s on both days of the Expat Expo Markt, Saturday 23 and Sunday 24, 12:00 – 16:00. I’ll be performing for a couple of hours over the weekend alongside Jenn and an amazing bunch of Berlin-based folk.

The shows are listed in this email or you can see them on my website, but here is the Facebook event for the February 12 show at Das Hotel in Kreuzberg where I’ll be rocking Tuesday night with two sets of new material. And here is the Bad Lip Reading version of Beyonce’s Presidential Inauguration national anthem. You’re welcome.

A new month, new resolutions

1 Feb

February 2013. After a slow January hibernation, I had the sudden morning sense of the months’ temporal velocity. And an ache over how few of my many ideas make it out of my brain or past a coffee and chat with a potential collaborator. I do a lot of things – playing concerts, a house concert series, a new booking agency, friends, longer tours, songwriting, writing, collaborative events – but could I be more effective, more engaged, more organised?

Firstly, the promotional parts of the post: I have concerts coming up and I’m testing new, different material. If you’re in Berlin, I’d love you to come along.

Tuesday 12 February at Das Hotel, Kreuzberg. 21:00. Free entry. Two sets.
Saturday 23 & Sunday 24 February – English Theatre Berlin. BERLIN-KREUZBERG DE. 12:00 – 16:00. 5€. One on One singer-songwriter shows produced by Sofa Salon and Everyone is from Somewhere.
Friday 1 March supporting Bocage at Amiga Club, Treptow. 20:00.
Thursday 11 April with Salon Band at Kugelbahn, Wedding. Salon Band are reinterpreting songs from my ‘Close as a Slow Dance’ album. 20:00.

I am in my cave at 9pm on a Friday night doing up a blog post on organisation, engagement and resolutions.  Honestly, I’m not in much of a bar mood at this time of year. Winter, especially a grey, wet one, is like a damp, heavy St Bernard sitting on the knees of my sociability, so I tend to use Winter to plan, book Summer tours, make lists, found new years’ enterprises and the planning meetings force me out of the house. A useful Winter Blues coping strategy.

Plans for this year include taking guitar lessons to polish up the things I can do and add to my skill set. Take Yoga classes on a weekly basis, but I am yet to leave my cave at 8am in order to do so. Buy a Hagstrom semi-acoustic guitar to boost my live sound. Write new songs for the new band format. Rehearse weekly alone and also with the band. Find a band residency. Promote my shows more effectively. Use my diary everyday. See more songwriters. Get my booking agency’s festival and club lists in some sort of order. Find a writing class. Leave Berlin for reasons other than touring. Get a weekly sauna. See my friends more.

You can see the list is endless. I am an inverterate list-maker after my father, I suppose but, like him, many of those things don’t get done in the intended time. A rehearsal is delayed. I’m behind with the booking. I am as yet Yogaless. ETC.

The problem is that I don’t really know where to go from my position of (limited) success. I think that issue is rather one of goal-setting and prioritising. I came to Berlin with several goals in mind – to make a record, to tour Europe, to create collaborative opportunities, to write better songs, live as a musician. I have achieved all of them, even the living as a musician goal, but it’s still breadline scale. I was told last week that I’m not actually successful. I disagree, but I am aware that I had fairly achievable expectations and it’s not the wider definition of success.

On the day-to-day level, and even with years of organisational experience, I still find myself adding yesterday’s unfinished work to today’s To-Do list without much in the way of prioritising. I still take what’s coming at me rather than looking towards a greater plan. I still feel under-confident when picking up the phone to find work.

How high should I set my goals? Should I am for high expectations and achievable goals or high goals and achievable expectations? But I either work everyday for small money or find some way of raising my value. I can have another year of longish, small-scale tours or invest the year into developing the band project. I can take guitar lessons or refresh my singing training, but not both. Where are the hours in the day to do enough booking, practice, writing, planning and socialising?

If I think about my goals now, in twelve months time, I would like:
– to have become a better guitarist
– to have two sets worth of new material for the band in the direction I am starting to articulate
– to have established a working rhythm, income and reputation for the booking agency
– to live by myself
– to be in a kick-ass live band
– to double my 2012 income
– to utilise my health care and get my teeth worked on
– to holiday to at least one of my dream destinations
– to be well towards confirmed US and Australian tours
– to have a handle on the UK touring market
– to play at at least one music festival
– to have dinner parties more often
– to see more live music
– to develop a promotional strategy
– to develop a business plan or at least a set of goals and logical steps to achieve them. A friend does an annual life contract with himself.

Do you have suggestions for organisation and goal-setting? How do you manage your time and your life? I’d love to start a conversation about this and add helpful strategies to the website.

Cheers,

Sam

Tonight Lovelite

6 Sep

I have strange feeling this morning. It could be too much Party, as I’ve been frantically sucking all the juice from the remaining warm weather. It could be too little sleep as I’m work on the six Berlin Music Week events I’m involved in, plus helping with Eric Eckhart’s amazing DIT: Do-It-Together project, plus rehearsals, plus trying to find time to write new songs, plus tour booking for December.

It’s those things, but it’s also the feeling I get when I’m about to achieve a goal. A kind of weightlessness and unreality mixed with a heaviness or weariness. The Hanged Man tarot card has been my guide in this recent part of my journey – a suspended state where worldly cares fall away and you have the opportunity to assess your path, hanging between heaven and earth. I’m dangling from that tree, pockets empty, hair streaming down and a small smile on my face. I’m taking in all I have achieved and all the help I’ve had to achieve these things. I’m wondering what to aim for in the future and I have some intriguing, unexpected opportunities before me.

In recording my album ‘Close as a Slow Dance’, and in the last 15 months of touring, I have succeeded in both the major goals I set when coming to Berlin. Tonight I will achieve two more goals – making Wasp Summer a band in which I play guitar and supporting people I really admire in a major music festival showcase.

Two Australian friends of mine in Berlin happen to be great musicians – Stuart Braun, a journo-rock dog and gun drummer and Simon Morrison, a writer and long-standing punk bassplayer. They’ve kindly joined me to make Wasp Summer a three piece and we’ve hammered out some semblance of unity in the last few weeks and given these six songs a band feel. To make it work, I’ve had to radically change my playing from singer-songwriter strumming to a more minimal style in this short time. Paradoxically, as the sound gets louder, I’ve had to pull my vocals back, condense them, to keep the songs powerful in this new context. But I hear what I need to do. I worried I wouldn’t know how to do this stuff. But I do.

Tonight, we debut the band at Berlin Music Week, in a showcase with some of my favourite Berlin musicians and people. I have had some press, my Sofa Salon concerts have sold out, the hard work has paid off. Tonight, I crank up the overdrive and tell six stories the best way I can with some good friends around me. This is honestly the work I live for. Making music, making events and playing live.

On the weekend, I got an email from Bernard Zuel, head music writer for the Sydney Morning Herald, saying his review of my debut album ran in Friday’s Metro. Here’s the review. It’s really nice.

CLOSE AS A SLOW DANCE (A Headful Of Bees/bandcamp.com)
Three and a half stars
An Australian in Berlin makes an album of alt. country in Italy, Switzerland and Argentina. As you do. Those oddities aside, Sam Wareing’s voice has sand in its grooves and her songs have sadness in their bones so that they are both fragile and resilient. Best of all the songs have a rolling certainty to them: they feel good and they feel right whether it is organ and violin laid on neatly, suddenly swelling backing vocals or the right tone to the acoustic guitars. Waiting has whiskey drama, Dancehall At Louse Point rides a big twang and On The Outside Of You aches. It’s more than country rock though as the powerful I Hope You’ll Mend has something of the otherworldly grandeur of Dead Can Dance. – Bernard Zuel

So every time I think that this can’t possibly work, something new comes along to tell me it can. Today, I am grateful for my gifts, my opportunities, my friends and collaborators. I am grateful that the hard work pays off in big or small ways. It’s not taking over the world, but it is making a life on my own terms. Today, every day, I have succeeded.

Thursday 6 2012
Wasp Summer + Eric Eckhart + Nina Hynes + Miss Kenichi + Ken Burke + DJ Lapkat
LOVELITE, Simplonstr. 38, Berlin-Friedrichshain. 20:00. 5€ .

Love,

Sam

Australian album release – September 3

26 Jul

I’m releasing my album in Australia on September 3, 2012. At the moment my label and I are busy sending out digital and physical copies of the album and chasing up reviews and other coverage on community radio, ABC stations, street press and in the dailies.

Having worked before as a music publicist, this is not my favourite part of the process of putting out a record, but I have some good contacts and good advice and am rebuilding the media list I left back in a different computer on a different continent.

It’s always a fine balance between pestering someone to the point of annoying them and making the album a priority through relentless, polite follow-up, but that’s how more people will come to hear about the record and I’ve just had to steel myself to the work rather than whining in my pyjamas.

Even though making and releasing a record is, like a novel or a film, a huge creative endeavour and achievement, it does sometimes feel like everyone else in the world is also doing it at the same time. I worry that this beautiful album that we worked our guts out for will be lost in the flood of releases.

The work is unforgiving and less fruitful than I’d hope for the number of hours we put into it, and of course takes time away from the instantly rewarding activities like rehearsal and songwriting. And messing around on the internet.

Please feel free to request the album at your local radio station. There are listening and downloads links on the right of this post through Soundcloud and Bandcamp. You can buy the album through iTunes, Amazon, eMusic and a whole host of good digital retailers as well as stream it on Spotify.

Our Old Oblivion music video (test edit 2)

10 Jul

Our Old Oblivion (test video 2) from WaspSummer on Vimeo.

This is the second edit. After the first edit, I recorded some new scenes, played with some extra effects (screen in screen! overlay! blur transitions! – I know I have gone overboard with the blur transitions…). I have also recorded further new material with some new characters so I will do a third edit with this new material.

I asked advice of some professional filmmakers and they have offered to take me through the process of storyboarding which will hopefully clarify both my storyline and edits.